At this point if you still haven’t heard of director Denis Villeneuve I’ll just have to assume you’ve either been living in a cave or have very poor taste in cinema. With Maelstrom, Polytechnique, Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario and now Arrival, Villeneuve has demonstrated ridiculous consistency that makes one wonder if he is actually human or one of the extra terrestrial beings in his latest film.
Based on Ted Chaing’s short story ‘Story of Your Life’, Arrival blends thought provoking drama and science fiction to form an intoxicating, unforgettable audio visual experience. This is one of those films you won’t stop talking about and passionately recommending to your friends, and also a rare film of the year that actually makes you want to head back to the theater.
In Arrival, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguist trying to cope with a tragedy from a few years ago. Her melancholic life is disrupted one morning when a bunch of extraterrestrial crafts appear across the Earth. Before she can even react she’s summoned by the American military to establish contact with the aliens through her linguistic expertise. That’s all you need to know about the plot because the knowledge of anything more about the film would take away the many subversive surprises it offers.
Like in many of Villeneuve’s films the central female character goes on an epic journey in the first act crossing a border of sorts into an unknown world, and the buildup for the same is gut-wrenchingly tense. The first time we see the alien crafts is a moment of breathtaking beauty – and because Adams’ character navigates through the situation like the eyes and ears of the audience it’s easy to get completely sucked into the narrative.
The first thing you’ll notice, of course, is how smart the film is. Unlike in movies like this year’s terrible Independence Day Resurgence there is a very real depiction of how the world would react if aliens did show up at our doorstep. It’s also nice to see characters that don’t make stupid decisions when things don’t go according to plan.
But the far more interesting aspect of the film is how the presence of the aliens renders commentary on us humans as a species and how callous and self-destructive we are. The default reductive nature of our collective human personality is quite toxic to the planet and Arrival lays bare the spark of the chain reaction that would start if the highest powers on the planet suddenly unite or clash in territorial defense.
But despite the heavy themes the film is not as lyrically philosophical as Terrence Malick’s films – in fact writer Eric Heisserer has made all these themes quite accessible to the average audience looking for an entertaining film with a sprinkle of intelligence. The final twenty minutes are in fact way too ‘idiot proof’ and you wish Villeneuve had gone the extra mile especially since he’d come so far from the mainstream zone.
Jeremy Renner has a small likable supporting role as a theoretical physicist who accompanies Banks to contact the aliens but the film belongs solely to Adams who carries the significant emotional weight like a pro. She’s pretty much booked yet another Oscar nomination here and if she wins it would be the first time since Aliens that an actress got the award for a sci fi movie. This also bodes well for Villeneuve whose next film is the highly anticipated sequel for Blade Runner, his official arrival into big budget Hollywood.